Koinonia is a word that appears thirteen times in the New Testament. It has a variety of meanings: fellowship, communion, shared giving or the sharing of faith, partnership. Koinonia is the work of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2.42-47 the Christian church at Pentecost is a community made of Koinonia. In the ministry of spiritual direction there is an emphasis on the discerning the work of the Spirit and the call of Christ in the individual. This is to be expected; however, the individual by necessity must be part of a community otherwise there is no possibility of contributing or receiving from Koinonia.
In my experience there are two contemporary trends that are puzzling in their contradiction. There is a priority in current writing about spirituality which is fixated on the fulfilment of the individual. This mirrors our cultural context and its search for personal realisation. This has obvious dangers, and the discernment of spirits is vital here – there is fine distinction between seeking God’s will for me, and seeking my own will for me. All this can take place without any real engagement with other Christians. Part of this self-centred approach can be a dipping in and out of various church groups as suits the individual at any one time.
The other trend is a growing awareness of the need to belong to and build up communities of faith and witness. This may not be the same as parish life! This movement is powered by a hunger for Koinonia. In a society where everything from a school to sports club calls itself a community, it is clear that the need for authentic community can make itself felt. Anyone who believes that the Spirit is the source of their life, and is letting the Spirit direct his or her course will be looking for and involved in Koinonia.
Many individuals do not experience the fullness of God’s grace because they have never been a partaker in Koinonia. It is the life of fellowship and partnership in the Gospel that the Holy Spirit equips and inspires. Without being part of the Vine, without being a living member of the Body, there is very little possibility of real vitality in Christian life. It is the experience of Koinonia that we learn to love as God would have us love. We must remember the Lord’s teaching to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. For those who are seeking love for themselves, there has to be a looking beyond themselves to realise what love truly is.
In spiritual direction it is always important to assess the directee’s experience of Koinonia – for here is a source of penitence, humility, and intercession. It is in Koinonia that we gather the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. It is vital for individuals to assess where they find Koinonia in their life, and it is vital for those who oversee church life to ensure that the Spirit is not quenched and that Koinonia can flourish. The life of the baptised is the call to Koinonia; and to resist this call is to resist the call of Christ.